on prints23 Nov 2010
So, over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of people ask to buy prints of my photos. It’s incredibly flattering to know that people appreciate my photos enough to want to hang them on their walls at all, much less pay me for it. As such, I’ve always felt compelled to do my best to fulfill these requests, despite the fact that I know very little about the actual printing industry, much less matting, framing and decorating. To be honest, though, it’s become a hassle. The industry is changing daily due to the digital revolution, and the frequency of people asking me for prints is relatively rare. Thus, every time it happens, I have to re-evaluate the vendors, and then negotiate a price (read: pull one out of my ass), which always felt a bit disingenuous (more below). Plus, again, I’m often asked to provide expertise in an area (printing, framing and decoratin) that I know nothing about. I actually once had someone ask me which of my photos would work best in their living room, and gave me a rundown of the furniture and color scheme. At the end of the day, I’m a photographer, not an interior decorator.
To that end, I’ve decided to start offering prints for free. Of course, I don’t mind if people want to compensate me for them, naturally, but it’s easier for me to just handle that via donations. This gives people the flexibility to get whatever they want, and frees me to focus on what I do best: taking pictures. I’ve put up instructions and details, but I felt like some elaboration was necessary — hence this post:
Most photographers protect their images rigorously. They watermark them. They only upload smaller resolutions. They market their pictures as an exclusive or “fine art” product, and only offer prints in limited, expensive runs. Why don’t I do that?
Well, my demure response is that there’s never been any such demand for prints of my pictures, and I think it’s silly to try to artificially create it. This is my response to the modest demand for prints of my photos that I’ve seen. It’s not enough to make a living, and I don’t suspect it ever would be.
If you’d twist my arm a little, I might go on: A lot of photographers are stuck in a mindset that hasn’t yet caught up with the modern world we’re living in. Limited/numbered runs are a comically archaic way to distribute your photography. It made sense in an age when the material costs of the actual print-making process were a limiting factor. It’s ridiculous to expect that someone would pay a premium for a print of a photo because you only made 50 when they know perfectly well that you took the photo with a digital SLR and could very well make 50,000 if you wanted. Let’s not delude ourselves. Very few photographers are good enough that this sort of artificially generated demand will work. Nonetheless, every aspiring professional photographer on the planet attempts to frantically “protect” their images against barbarian hordes that simply don’t exist. You have to be a pretty amazing photographer for someone to still want a print of your photo when all they can see is a 500×500 watermarked thumbnail. And trust me, you’re not that good. I’m not that good.
Secondly, the process by which prices are negotiated in the market for art always left a bad taste in my mouth. When people asked me how much my photography cost, I was always forced to pull a number out of thin air. There are no physical constraints that would factor in my setting a price for the actual prints, and the attempts by some photographers to artificially create some (as mentioned above) struck me as dishonest, or at the least, overly-arbitrary. I think that’s why this solution feels so good: aside from the fact that it caters to my laziness, it’s also very honest.
I want people to see my photography. I’m vain, what can I say? And I want people to see my photography in a clear, unobstructed, large format. In a digital age, this means simple, large, unaltered, high-res digital images. Does this mean that, really, anyone with a lick of sense could snag a high-res copy of my photos and print them on their own? Absolutely. Am I worried about throngs of malicious people doing so in high volume without paying for it? Hardly. Most people that want to buy my photos are honest people that like my photography and want a modest print of it, and/or want to support my photography, which, again, they are most welcome to do!